I’m Already Freaked About Law School Finals

Q I just started law school. I’m a little freaked out about finals. I know it’s early, but I want to do everything in my power to get good grades. Are there any tricks I should know about?

A Umm . . . go to class, take notes—and make sure you review previous years’ exams. Studying last year’s essay questions is way more important than joining some lame, self-important study group where everyone’s trying to impress each other. You should also talk to some cool (and smart) second years and see if you can check out their study materials/outlines.

One more tip: Avoid all-nighters and self-proclaimed legal geniuses at all costs.

Ex-Bitter is a former big firm lawyer who now doles out advice to anyone who asks. Got a question? Email it to advice@bitterlawyer.com. Or read more Advice from an Ex-Bitter.

20 Comments

  1. Al Dickman

    November 3, 2008 at 3:55 am

    Review professional legal outlines, not those of fellow ass-hats.  Many times, people just rely on others in the class.  It’s best to go to Gilbert’s or Emmanuel’s outlines (are those still being published?).  Be wary of “cool” Second years.  While it is true they have already gotten thru those exams, if you are a pretty first year, their interest may be focused on getting in your pants. As to guys, you don’t have to worry about the 2nd year women.  They have their sights set on 3rd years or the professors.  But in the end, you’ll get there, so just chill!

  2. Anonymous

    November 3, 2008 at 4:39 am

    Don’t worry.  Look around at all of the dilweeds out there practicing law.  If they passed, so will you.  More importantly, you will also one day be one of those same dilweeds. —something to look forward to!!!!!

  3. Anonymous

    November 3, 2008 at 6:17 am

    I disagree about the study groups.  Don’t join a study group with a bunch of self-important douche bags, but definitely join a study group.

  4. Bitter 2L

    November 3, 2008 at 6:44 am

    Gilberts and Emmanuels are still in print, but they’re also online so you can save paper if you can do it on the computer.
    The biggest thing about Finals is that you have to take this as your job.  This is why you’re here.  Start getting outlines and stuff together now…not the week after Thanksgiving.  And start studying now.  If you can lay your hands on a Bar-Bri book for first year review, it will pay huge dividends.  They contain Con Law, Crim Law, Civ. Pro., Torts, Property, Ks, and some contain Crim Pro.
    GOOD LUCK!

  5. Anonymous

    November 3, 2008 at 7:47 am

    prepare your own outlines.

  6. Anonymous

    November 3, 2008 at 8:38 am

    screw the professional outlines. Your professor wants you to write on the final what he or she told you…not what some professional outline says. And some professors cover things differently than those reviews.
    Review your own notes…make your own outline and study your ass off.
    good luck.

  7. Canned Outline Hater

    November 3, 2008 at 9:11 am

    Write your own outlines… and keep re-writing them until you can condense it to 5 pages MAX. 

    Furthermore, you should be updating your outlines after every class—don’t fall behind. 

    Get your hands on as many old essays from that professor as you can and issue spot and IRAC them.  Allocate about 20 min per essay doing this.  You don’t have time to write out 20 or so hour-long essay questions, but if you can effectively issue spot and outline you will be way ahead of the game (and you will be in good shape when the Bar rolls around… which is the ultimate end game).

    Good luck and don’t forget to enjoy winter break… sadly these are not offered in the real world

  8. Southern Lawyer

    November 3, 2008 at 9:15 am

    I had a study group, it helped but be careful.  Make sure you are being productive and that you are not spinning your wheels.  Other than that I agree with advice given.  Avoid know it alls…you will soon learn that they dont know shit, they just sound confident…that means they will get a C.
    You should be freaked out, go study.  You should devide your time over the next month equally for each exam.  If you do that you will see that you need to start this week.  Get your outlines together ASAP and get working.  Good luck, dont fuck up.

  9. Pacific Reporter

    November 3, 2008 at 10:54 am

    1) Write your own outlines.

    2) Work through a few old exams for each course.

    3) PROFIT!!!

  10. Anonymous

    November 3, 2008 at 11:01 am

    Also, make sure to study hard for the last 3 nites before the exam; no partying, and no sex.  Repeat, no sex.  If you have beard stubble, your testosterone level will be higher and you will be more alert.  You don’t want to be blase about the test after a late nite in the sack with the girlfriend.  She’ll understand. Otherwise, she’ll have an unemployed law student and you’ll understand.  Understand?  No go do it!

  11. Jbond007

    November 3, 2008 at 12:55 pm

    As a 1L you need to figure out what works best for you.  For some it’s study group, for others it’s creating their own outlines, for other’s it’s watching TV.  YOu need to figure out what works best for you.  That said, I agree with those who recommend working through a professor’s old tests with the caveat that you need to either check out the model answers or go over them with the professor (if possible).  Specifically, you need to know what the professor is looking for in an answer.  Some want nitty gritty details, others want a regurgitation of points they made in class, others the approach is more important than the answer, etc.
    As for outlines, I never created one from scratch.  I always took outlines from previous years or other professors who used the same textbook and modified them for my class.  (Try either your schools outline data bank or outlinedepot.) After that I used them to work through practice exams or on hypotheticals provided by commerical study books.

  12. Anonymous

    November 3, 2008 at 3:45 pm

    100% right on the sex issue.  None for the last week.  You can make it up in bed AFTER your last final.  Be careful, tho, that you don’t give your girlfriend whiplash afterward. It’s not covered under standard homeowners policies.

  13. Jimmy

    November 3, 2008 at 7:25 pm

    You can have sex.  It’ll be okay
    All the preparatory advice is right on.  In the exam itself, be skeptical.  Second guess everything you right and then argue against yourself.  The biggest mistake that 1Ls make on exams is they fail to argue the other side of issues.  Criticize your conclusions and then criticize your criticisms.

  14. Horny 1L

    November 4, 2008 at 3:48 am

    Wait a minute.  Where can I get sex in Law school?  I haven’t had any since the summer, before I came here.  Is there a place I’ve been missing out on?

  15. Canned Outline Hater

    November 4, 2008 at 7:45 am

    What a minute… why are you assuming this 1L is a guy??  If you watch Seinfeld and you saw the episode when George and Elaine both stop having sex… then you know where I am going with this… If you are a man, then yes don’t have sex, learn Portuguese in hours… but if you are a female… GO GET SOME!

  16. john

    November 4, 2008 at 7:41 pm

    Read the book.  Pay attention in class.  Don’t take notes and forget the outlines.  Use analogies to help your reading retention.

  17. Graduate

    November 11, 2008 at 6:42 pm

    Finals are stressful.  But don’t worry.  Here’s the skinny: the two biggest mistakes that students make on finals are (1) failure to spot the issues the professor wants you to discuss, and (2) failure to do decent analysis.  On the first point, remember, almost every single fact in the pattern is significant.  I still remember my first torts exam.  Two neighbors feuding.  One stands up on the wall dividing their property.  The other shoots an arrow at him, narrowly missing.  Neighbor the first falls off the wall and hits the ground, injuring himself.  The prof wanted to hear about assault, specifically Garrett v. Dailey.  Unfortunately the fact went right by me.  But I didn’t let that happen again.  To the second point, remember to explain your reasoning.  The outcome IS NOT IMPORTANT.  It is the reasoning you use to get there that matters.  Take a fact from the pattern, and say why it does or does not lead you to your conclusion.  Really, that’s all you have to do.  If you think you can find the time, get some study aids.  Reading case law is difficult!  And figuring out what the profs want you to get from each case is even more difficult.  I found the two most helpful study aids were the Examples & Explanations series (just type that into Amazon and you’ll find them) and the Understanding _____ series (e.g. Understanding Property).  Once you’ve used the study aids to fashion an outline, get the past exams and take them in a timed setting.  Do not use canned outlines.  If your professor is willing, see if she or he will read your answers to the past exams and give you advice.  Also, remember that the exam is generally going to test the most testable issues.  For example, take torts.  The prof is almost certainly going to test you on negligence.  Why?  Because it’s a huge part of torts and it makes for great fact patterns.  So know negligence like the back of your hand.  As for trespass to chattel?  Probably not going to make it on to the exam.  Finally, one trick a lot of profs use is to write fact patterns that resemble note cases.  You know those cases in the text that they suggest you read?  Yeah, there are too many to read.  But a lot of profs base their fact patterns on those cases.  So, once you’ve done everything else I suggested, take a look through the note cases that follow the most testable subjects.  You’ll do fine.

  18. Northern Reporter

    November 18, 2008 at 8:28 pm

    November 3rd is not too early to start worrying about exams (September 3rd – different story). They cornerstone key to doing well on ANY law school exam is understanding the material. Practice exams and study groups will do you absolutely NO good if you don’t know what the hell you are talking about. Know your shit (do an outline, do some MC) and then do some practice ESSAY exams. If you find yourself looking through your outline trying to answer a practice essay question, you are wasting your time. Remember, issue-spotting and analyzation skills require knowledge, not familiarity. The practice essays are practice, NOT preparation.

  19. Admitted but Unemployed

    November 19, 2008 at 2:32 pm

    Stop being a malingering baby.  Go to class, take notes, outline… learn the material.  It doesn’t get any easier from where you are on out.  Your anxiety will work against you– so settle down.

  20. manda

    December 26, 2008 at 12:58 pm

    Don’t let other people’s comments about how much they have done make you feel like you’re not doing enough.  If you have kept up with your outline, sought help when it was needed, and answered some sample questions, you’ll be fine.  Have faith in yourself that you are prepared.  If you find the material at all interesting, the fact patterns can be pretty funny.  Be sure to cite the facts and the cases.  Try to relax!  (The wait for the results is the really hard part!)

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